Interview- Borderless: Canadian folk-rockers challenge Americana dominance

culture-glsCanadian quartet Great Lake Swimmers put a new spin on folk-rock.

For all the hype about the revamping of Americana tunes with an influx of indie-folk bands, the North American music scene is in no way limited to American artists– just ask Toronto-based folk rockers Great Lake Swimmers.

"Music shouldn't have borders around it, but I'm very proud that Canada is doing so well with music right now," says frontman Tony Dekker, little Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene sprites no doubt appearing in thought bubbles above his head. "I like to think there's something uniquely Canadian reflected in our music."

Heralded as a "national treasure" by Canadian critics, GLS began as a solo singer-songwriter project by the Ontario native in 2001. Gaining steam– and a full five piece band– over the years, the folk-rock ensemble recently released Lost Channels, its fourth studio album, which garnered a coveted spot on the short list for the 2009 Polaris Music Prize, an annual award for best full-length Canadian album.

The Hook: How was making Lost Channels different from earlier albums?
Tony Dekker: I tried to say as much as I could in the short amount of space that the medium requires– I listened a lot to the original Carter family and was fascinated that they could get across big ideas about hardship in such a small period of time. It was an inspiration to try and really use the medium of a song and say everything I had to say.

The Hook: You've said that the move from small-town Ontario to Toronto was a culture shock for you. How is that tension reflected in your music?
TD: On the first album, you can see clearly a part of [my] culture shock– through the course of our albums, people have picked up on themes of the natural world.

The Hook: Critics have consistently raved about your "timeless style." Do you think it's important to modernize the traditional?
TD: I would say we're not making traditional music, but using traditional tools. I was raised on old country and western records, but when I got into music, it was punk rock, DIY music– and that was the lens I used to see music through. I first started playing because of the music of Sonic Youth, the Dead Kennedys, conscious punk rock. I feel we're adding a DIY independent fusion into a traditional base.

The Hook: Reviews have said your music sounds "haunted" and "lonely." Are you haunted? Are you lonely?
TD: Sometimes.

Great Lake Swimmers perform at The Southern on 10/3. Wooden Birds and Sharon Van Etten open. The show starts at 8:00 pm and tickets are $14 at the door.